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Patterns of civil imagination: Drawing the Unshowable Photographs

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Seeking out the patterns of constituent violence, so that these patterns might be understood and reordered, lies at the heart of Ariella Azoulay’s discursive project, the Unshowable Photographs: Different Ways Not to Say Deportation (2012). The photographs in question capture scenes from the mass movement of Palestinians after the establishment of the state of Israel. In response to archival restrictions, she enacts an apparently simple gesture, that of making drawings of these ‘unshowable’ photographs. The resulting works operate to reposition the viewer as an active interpreter, suggesting a practice that is both aesthetic and political. These terms are examined for their ability to cast light on Azoulay’s key concepts of civil imagination and the civic gaze. Her critique of the archive is also considered, particularly archival mechanisms for setting and repeating divisive, diachronic patterns whose impacts are not contained in the past but continue to work on the present. However, the archive can also be a generative source of potential histories, occluded patterns of life and possibilities that were suppressed or overlooked. Azoulay approaches photography as an event that is ongoing and multiple, renewed in each encounter with a viewer. The drawings, as a form of graphic witnessing, intensify the ethical relation to the image. I will argue that the act of drawing seeks to bind rather than separate, bringing us in to a relation with the image that the photograph could not. From here it is possible to glimpse the emergence of a civil imaginary that resists familiar aesthetic and political categories, one that obliges viewers to reconsider their agency as citizens. Recognizing this, new patterns of being-with others may become possible.
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Keywords: archive; civil imagination; dissensus; drawing; patterns; photography; politics; potential history

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Gloucestershire

Publication date: April 1, 2019

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  • Drawing: Research, Theory, Practice promotes and disseminates drawing research with a focus on contemporary practice and its theoretical context. This journal seeks to reestablish the materiality of drawing as a medium at a time when virtual, on-line, electronic media dominates visuality and communication.

    This peer-reviewed publication represents drawing as a significant discipline in its own right and in a diversity of forms: as an experimental practice, as research, as representation and/or documentation, as historical and/or theoretical exploration, as process or as performance. It explores the drawing discipline across fine art, science and engineering, media and communication, psychology, architecture, design, science and technology, textiles, fashion, social and cultural practices.

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